Basic Italian educational principles are constitutionally founded and ensure free, compulsory educational opportunity for all children. The Italian educational system's philosophy of education varies from teacher centered to student centered. The highly standardized curriculum was designed to facilitate school transfer in both public and private schools. There has been a gradual shift from rote memory assignments and assessments to less formal methods, which stress creativity and the application of critical inquiry and higher order thinking skills. In 1989 all issues related to higher education were transferred to the Ministry for Universities and Scientific Research.
The Italian educational system provides nursery school for 3- to 5-year-olds; elementary school for 6- to 11-year-olds; lower secondary or middle school for 11- to 14-year-olds; upper secondary school or vocational training for 15- to 18- or 19-year-olds; and university, university institutes, or Fine Arts academies for those 19 and older. Upper secondary schools include classic or scientific high schools (five years) leading to higher education/university studies; artistic (four years); technical school (five years); vocational school (five years or more); nursery school and primary teacher training (three years); and higher/university education (three to five years).
The overall responsibility for education in Italy rests with two bodies: the Ministry of Public Instruction for preschool, primary, and secondary education and the Ministry for Universities and Scientific Research. There are close links between these two ministries and the Finance Ministry regarding budget matters and the Labor and Social Security Ministry for connecting schooling with the world of work. Educational reform continues in Italy with its main focus on the role of the ministries regarding policy, budget, curriculum, pedagogy, and administration or distribution of responsibilities.
Since the late 1950s, educational responsibilities and services have become gradually decentralized, and in 1972 many of the Ministry of Public Instruction's administrative powers were transferred to regional and local authorities. Since 1975 regions have had the primary responsibility for vocational education and training; they have consulted with the Ministry of Labor to ensure the appropriate programs and training are being provided. In 1985 pedagogical and programs guidelines were established for elementary and lower elementary school. Since 1999, all citizens aged 6 to 16 years must attend a compulsory education program. Parents have the option of sending their children to school or providing compulsory education themselves or employing a tutor. Those parents who assume direct responsibility for their children's education must file yearly reports with the Provincial Director of Education documenting their compliance with the established curriculum, and the children must pass state exams. A very small percentage of parents select for this type of education.
Student attendance is the responsibility of head teachers (direttore didattico) who are the equivalent of school principals in the United States. The mayor of each comune or township provides head teachers with lists of all children who, according to the General Registry Office, should be enrolled in school. When children complete their elementary education, head teachers are responsible for transferring students to lower secondary or middle schools. Head teachers contact parents of children not attending schools; non-compliance with attendance policies can result in punishment for parents or guardians.
Major reforms have taken place within the Italian school system to meet the needs of global education in the European Community and find educational compatibility within member nations. A Ministry of Public Instruction decree states that the study of other languages is essential for educational and professional development. Elementary schools were reorganized to include the study of modern languages, which are essential for effective communication and educational mobility within the European community. Middle and upper secondary school curricula include the study of foreign languages. Italians also realize that the study of languages and cultures are essential to meet the needs of immigrant populations as well as to encourage active, participatory citizenship in a global democracy.
This European dimension of education can be traced to Comenius (1592-1670), the Czech philosopher of education, who was concerned with schools as democratic arenas of intellectual discourse. His philosophy emphasized political unity, religious reconciliation, and educational cooperation. Initiatives of the European dimension on education include promoting equivalence of academic diplomas and mobility; fostering cooperation in education and research among universities; re-examining school curriculum, organization, exit exams, guidance and counseling, and extra-curricular activities.
A resolution from the European Community outlined objectives for strengthening the European dimension in education: to give young people a sense of European identity in the context of history and culture, and especially in safeguarding universal values of democracy, social justice, and human rights; to encourage youth to become full participants and contributing members in the European Community; and to point out the advantages and the challenges of European citizenship and cooperation in intercultural understanding The European dimension in education includes awareness of European citizenship in an interdependent world; the importance of building relationships; the involvement of extracurricular activities.
Educational legislative provisions are made within member countries of the European Community. EURYDICE, the Italian agency at the Library of Pedagogical Documentation, has strengthened its commitment for an integrative effort to publish and disseminate international information and documentation to benefit members of the European community. Italy cooperates with member countries on exchanges of classes, students, and teachers, as well as other educational initiatives and cultural agreements. Students who are citizens of the European community may attend school in Italy for professional education and training. The Office of Cultural Exchange at the Ministry of Public Instruction had directed its efforts to activities toward wide-ranging cooperative projects. A pilot project connected 300 territorial schools to the Internet so students would have international access to information and educational opportunities.
Educational cooperative efforts include implementing instructional reform, establishing school age levels of entry and exit, providing professional training courses for secondary students, reinforcing language acquisition, reducing the number of dropouts, providing student guidance and orientation, and organizing programs of equivalency, mobility, and exchange. Programs like SOCRATES, ERASMUS, and LEONARDO are essential to the development of quality education across members of the European Community. The ministries of education have increased a financial commitment to participate in the European education dimension.
An efficient service of pedagogical documentation, information, and research is needed to promote and develop autonomous projects within existing cooperative networks. Important aspects of the European dimension of education are to facilitate and integrate the process of communication, to provide for the service of information, and to ensure the dissemination of research results throughout regions, provinces, and countries in the European Community.
Intercultural education has become an essential component of the Italian educational system at all levels of schooling to create a new awareness of the European dimension in citizenship. These school programs define the dimensions of socialization by providing opportunities for students to come into contact with cultures and languages different from Italian society and to learn to become world citizens. The Italian educational system promotes cultural pluralism in the curriculum by encouraging students to develop a healthy sense of respect for cultural differences and to approach the study of issues from a multiple perspective, while maintaining universal values of social justice and equity.
Since 1985 primary schools have stressed instructional objectives that deal with the importance of inter-cultural education emphasizing the need for understanding and cooperating with culturally different persons to prevent the danger of stereotyping and prejudice. In 1991 these objectives became part of nursery school education where the term multicultural education was introduced and stressed the importance of identifying, recognizing, and valuing cultural diversity in school and global, democratic societies.
Secondary schools have had less direction from the state in incorporating multicultural awareness in the curriculum; however, there are initiatives included in educational objectives and curriculum to integrate intercultural communication and understanding, as well as develop multiples ways of thinking critically. A 1994 ministry educational decree emphasizes the need for providing multicultural awareness and activities as a global response to a society that is becoming increasingly multicultural. This decree also reinforces the rights of immigrant and migrant children to equal opportunity and equity of access to education and training.
Italy participates in European network projects created for intercultural and multicultural education. Many of these programs, coordinated by the Office of Cultural Exchange, are specifically designed for teacher training in intercultural and teaching and learning for a multicultural society, including bilingual education and teaching of Italian to immigrant students. The Office of Cultural Exchange published a report, "Intercultural Education: Experiences and Prospects," which gives an overall picture of the theoretical and practical aspects of intercultural and multicultural education and highlighting the importance of cross-cultural communication for global democracies.
In 1996 the central role of the European dimension in education was reaffirmed; schools will continue stressing intercultural awareness and understanding for a global society. Information and experiential opportunities for intercultural education issues and opportunity for international educational exchanges and multilateral school partnerships within the European Community are exemplified in programs like SOCRATES, LEONARDO, and ERASMUS. An increasing number of students participate in these programs throughout Europe. For example, Italian students enrolled in an agricultural course may be permitted to study in France or Portugal for one year and receive equivalency in mobility, credits, and grades.
A 1998 educational decree ensures that immigrant children in Italy must receive compulsory education, have access to information, and have all the rights to education services in the school and community. The school community respects the cultural and linguistic diversity of its members, encourages the sharing of cultural differences, and promotes mutual respect and tolerance. The school community promotes and encourages initiatives to respect and protect the culture and language diversity and provides opportunities for intercultural experiences and activities.
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